Cubs turn to Mike Montgomery for series opener

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Mike Montgomery pitches out of the bullpen earlier this season. Montgomery will make his first start on Monday against the Pirates.

Mike Montgomery will make his first start of the season when the Cubs open a three-game series against the Pirates on Monday afternoon at PNC Park.

The 28-year-old southpaw will fill the vacancy created by Yu Darvish, who was put on the 10-day disabled list Saturday because of right triceps tendonitis. Montgomery is 0-1 with a 5.33 ERA in 18 relief appearances.

Manager Joe Maddon said the best-case scenario would feature five efficient innings from Montgomery, whose season high is three innings out of the bullpen. He made five starts for the Cubs in 2016 and 14 in 2017.

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In his last appearance, Montgomery allowed six runs in 2„ innings while throwing a season-high 59 pitches.

“It matches up well,” Maddon said. “He had that one bad outing the last time, but overall he’s been throwing the ball extremely well. So let’s just put him out there and see how it plays.”

The Pirates won two of three from the Cubs in early April. The teams will play 19 times this season.

Maddon smiled when asked about the series matchup in the crowded NL Central. The division features four teams with records above .500, with Milwaukee leading the way at 34-20. The Cardinals, Cubs and Pirates are bunched several games behind and well within striking distance of the Brewers.

“Listen, I love the competition,” Maddon said. “I want to play in what’s considered the best division in all of baseball. Hopefully that’s what we are considered at some point.

“That should bring out the best in you as a group. You play those teams more often than any other teams, and it should draw out the best part of your playing ability. So I think it’s great.”

Armed and dangerous

Kyle Schwarber never will be known for his glove.

However, his arm seems to be improving. Schwarber entered Sunday with four outfield assists, tied for third in the National League. He trailed only Lorenzo Cain of the Brewers (six assists) and Starling Marte of the Pirates (five).

“He’s always had a decent arm, but his footwork has gotten so much better, and the arm strength seems to have gotten better, too,” Maddon said. “His whole body, everything he did in the offseason, is playing into these throws right now, so give him credit. He’s always had arm strength, but it’s really at an all-time high right now.”

Schwarber’s strength at the plate also has increased as his figure has trimmed down. He entered the series finale with a .515 slugging percentage, well above his .467 slugging percentage from a season ago.

Lineup changes

Ian Happ was scratched from the lineup because of a sore shoulder that he injured while diving for a ball Saturday.

Happ’s status is uncertain for Monday. The second-year outfielder is hitting .246 with eight home runs, 17 RBI and three stolen bases in 43 games.

Minus Happ, Maddon started Schwarber in left field, Albert Almora in center field and Jason Heyward in right. Ben Zobrist received a day off but will return Monday, Maddon said.

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